The Big Burn

We have had a hot/dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest.  With all the pine trees, it is a recipe for wildfire disaster, and we have had our share this year.  So grateful to the men and women that are willing to work out there fighting the fires.  Of course, where there is fire, there is smoke.  A lot.  To the point that you cannot enjoy being outside, which is disappointing.  Especially when we only have a few months of summer to start with.  Some days we cannot see past our front yard and the air quality is very poor.  But this post is not about wildfires, it is about the BIG BURN.

My good friend is retiring next month, and I think I will suggest she celebrate by doing the “big burn.”  It is a retirement tradition that Mr. U started.  Very creative and symbolic.    Mr. U was raised on a farm.  He grew up driving tractors, combines and swathers in the wheat fields.  Then he went to college and became a teacher, which eventually led to being a high school principal for 25 years.  He went from dusty overalls to dress slacks with a button up shirt and tie.  I thought he looked pretty sharp, but it was never really his choice of dress. 

A few years ago, Mr. U. retired from his principal position.  He loved his career but was ready to have more time to pursue personal interests and travel.  Months before he retired, he kept talking about the big burn he was going to have to celebrate his newfound freedom in retirement.  I let it go in one ear and out the other.  We had plenty of other retirement celebrations to attend. But after all of the retirement parties, kind words and gifts were over, it was time.  I was honored to be the only person invited to the big burn party of two. 

So, one lovely fall afternoon, Mr. U. informed me it was the perfect day for the big burn.  He went out to a large clearing where we have slash fires and started a big ole fire.   He set up two camp chairs and pulled out a flask of Jager. (The flask had a leather case with his initials on it, kindly made for him by the custodian at the high school.  A beloved gift from a gentle man and great friend, who has since passed.)  We sat in the chairs, sipping Yager (him) and wine for me (I hate Yager- yuck) while we watched the afternoon shadows give way to evening.  Then he brought down several large garbage bags, filled to the brim.  Slowly, one by one, he pulled out a tie, a dress shirt, a polo shirt with the school’s name embroidered on it, a pair of slacks and threw them in the fire.  Piece by piece he burned all his dress clothes from his career that no longer fit his new retirement lifestyle.  We talked about his career.  The ups.  The downs. The challenges. The achievements.  We remembered, we laughed, and we cried as he symbolically let go of that phase of his life.  It was therapeutic.  It was tangible and real. 

The Big Burn

I might add the disclaimer that he planned his retirement out a couple years ahead and did not buy any new dress clothes that last year.  The ones he burned were getting frayed at the edges and/or outdated and were not worth passing on to others.  He did save a few of the newer items for the rare occasion when he absolutely must dress up now. 

You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.

The retired alchemist

A few years later, when it came time for me to retire, I decided to continue the tradition and have a big burn of my own.  I gave away all of the dress cloths, scrubs and white lab coats that I could, and the rest went into the big burn.  It was emotional and symbolic and raw.  We let the fire burn down to a few embers and then we walked hand in hand, back to the house and our new retirement life together.   

So, yes, I will suggest to my dear friend that she gather all of her nursing scrubs that she dutifully wore through the years.  Years of caring for others, birthing babies and walking with patients as they transitioned from this life to the next, and have a big burn.  Then, she will come join me on the retirement journey.  The journey of our lives. 

On the home front

The days are becoming shorter, and the shadows are getting longer as summer gives way to fall. So, we are sucking up every opportunity we can to enjoy the last dregs of summer. Wednesday night some family members invited us to join them on an evening concert cruise. The Kelly Hughes Band has been playing country music for over 30 years and they did not disappoint. They belted out some great country songs, while we sang along, floating over the water as the sun set behind us.

A fun evening on the boat with a stunning sunset.

Speaking of sunsets, we found the best happy hour place in town last year and made a point to go there last week. I almost hate to write about it because I don’t want it to get so crowded that we can’t get in. But it is worth sharing. Stella’s on the Hill is the perfect spot to sip a glass of wine and watch the sunset as you listen to some music in the background and enjoy a breathtaking view of the lake and famous floating green at the golf course. Surprisingly, the prices are very reasonable too. Shhh, keep that knowledge to yourself.

The view of the lake and golf course is incredible. This picture does not do it justice.


Let me leave you with this precious picture of our new granddaughter meeting her great grandpa for the first time. If that doesn’t melt your heart, nothing will.

Have a great week and don’t forget to soak up the last dregs of summer!

What Were We Thinking?

It all started with too much time on Pinterest and Instagram.  If it weren’t for the Internet, I probably would not have known that my oak kitchen cabinets were very “dated.”  They were beautiful cabinets and very well made when we built our home 23 years ago.  But apparently, they became old fashioned while we were busy working and raising a family.  I guess retirement gave me time to look at them objectively and see the dings and scratches and…that they were outdated. 

We plan to sell our home and downsize next summer, so we have been looking at it more objectively to determine what we need to do to help it be more appealing for the market.  That is when I realized….horror of horrors, that we were the shameful owners of the dreadful, dated oak cabinets!  We investigated getting them professionally painted.  Too expensive.  Then Mr. U, also known as renaissance man, suggested we paint them ourselves.  How hard can it be?  I should explain that Mr. U grew up on a farm.  Give him some duct tape and bailing wire and he can fix anything.  He is never afraid to jump in and try a new challenge.  Me, not so much.  But we are retired and have the time, and it would save quite a bit of money.  So, Mr. U did the research and we headed to the paint store to stock up on painter’s tape, sandpaper, drop cloths and paint.  What were we thinking?

A work in progress.

We spent the last three weeks cleaning, sanding, cleaning, taping, numbering doors and drawers, cleaning, and finally, painting. I stick to my belief that the hardest part of painting anything is the prep work.  Our kitchen has been torn up this entire time.  That means we have been going out to eat a lot.  Too much.  As a matter of fact, by the time you deduct the cost of meals out, we may not have saved any money at all.   

Mr. U and I are in our 60’s and are getting a little too old to be going up and down ladders, crouching on our knees and standing on our heads to get to those odd spots to paint.  But slowly, painstakingly, we got it done.  And I really, really like them.  It lightens our kitchen up considerably.  Painting kitchen cabinets is not for the faint of heart and I definitely would not have tackled this project while working fulltime.  But heck, we are retired.  And there is the satisfaction of doing something yourself.  So, I am glad we did it…now that it is done. The verdict is still out on whether I would do it again. I will decide after my paint speckled arms and sore legs recover.

Finally finished. Sunflowers compliments of Mr. U’s garden.

I always find before and after pictures interesting, so here are a few.

About trends

The whole ordeal got me thinking about trends.  It surprises me that, even at my age, I am susceptible to styles and the ever-fickle marketers.  I don’t want to be swayed by the trend winds that blow in and out quickly. Then again, I do not want to be one of those retired people that is stuck in a favorite era and never changes her hairstyle, wardrobe, or household decorating style.  I want to keep things new and fresh.  Change is fun and keeps us from becoming stale.  If we do not change things up occasionally, we quit noticing or appreciating our surroundings.  We become dullened to the every day. I don’t want my home to become a museum that is tired and faded.  And I certainly don’t want to dress that way. However, I have been accused of that…

When I was teaching at our local community college, I would lecture for 2-4 hours at a time. That is a long time to be standing in front of an auditorium full of students, trying to keep them engaged on topics such as nephrology, cardiac care, the nursing process, or worse yet, pharmacology. It gives them a lot of time to evaluate stare at you. I get it because I always noticed a speaker’s appearance when I took a class or attended a conference.

At the end of each semester, the students complete an evaluation of the course and instructor. Instructors open these anonymous evaluations with trepidation, expecting comments regarding their teaching style, homework assignments, power points and test questions. Always comments on test questions. Sigh. So, it was with surprise that I opened one evaluation that suggested I dress more modern, for my age. She (I am quite sure it was she) added the back handed compliment that I “was attractive and should show off a bit.” Seriously?!? I shared this evaluation with my colleagues, and we got many good laughs over it for several years. The laughs were well worth the shot to my wardrobe. However, it certainly got me to thinking. I realized that I was wearing some cloths that really were several (too many) years old. I specifically remember a lovely red wool jacket, that was a hand me down from my mom. (That should have been my first clue.) It was high quality, but the cut and collar were definitely out of style. It went to Goodwill immediately. Apparently, my wardrobe also became old fashioned while I was busy working and raising a family.

While I do not need to jump on every trend… obviously, the experience made me realize that it is important to stay relevant and dress well for our age. When we are retired, it can be especially easy to forget about staying up to date, but our style speaks to the world about us. Older women, in particular, can become invisible. While that is sometimes convenient, I also want to be acknowledged and a vibrant part of life. Let’s kick ageism out the door!

As with most of life, the trick is to find the balance.   Stay abreast of new styles, look at them objectively and decide for ourselves what would be a fresh, fun change that we would truly enjoy.  I won’t be wearing hip hugger bell bottoms ever again, but I did just buy some wide leg pants for fall. Choose what speaks to us and expresses our own unique, but updated, style.  Because, ultimately, we need to please ourselves. 

The most exciting news on the home front!

Part of the reason we decided to paint the cabinets when we did was that we wanted to be close to home for a few weeks while we waited for grandbaby #3 to arrive. She finally made it into the world last Tuesday and she is absolutely adorable! Eight pounds of love, joy and happiness. It warms a mother’s heart to see her parents so happy and in love.

Being a grandparent is the best! We took a much-needed painting break and took grandchildren #1 & #2 to the lake for a sleepover last week. It made my heart sing to see them laughing and playing in the water.

Happy blogiversary

It is hard to believe that I have been writing my blog for one year now. I have written a post every week for 12 months. (Except this past week… on account of painting and the new grandbaby’s arrival.) Ironically, retirement life is really busy and sometimes it is hard to carve out several hours to write. I squeeze in time because I really enjoy the writing process; it has been a fun, creative outlet. But the best part is the connection with people. Other retirement bloggers have been so encouraging and kind. Of course, family and friends have as well, but they sort of have to. Smile. Thank you to the readers who have taken the time to read my posts, comment and follow along with me on this retirement journey. I am looking forward to what the next year has in store. Hopefully AI will not take over the entire writing world.

Cheers to the retirement years!

5 Things I learned from “Barbie”

I confess. I went to the “Barbie” movie. Don’t judge me. Fortunately, I have a seven-year-old granddaughter, so I had a legitimate excuse. The movie was not what I expected. To borrow an old term, it was pretty dorky and I am glad I had lots of popcorn to get me through it. But it was one of those movies that had me thinking about it a lot after I watched it. I know a movie made an impact on me when it does that. I appreciated the obvious message of patriarchy, but it was more than that. I also enjoyed the bits of humor sprinkled in it. Such as, when Barbie enters the real world, and her feet go flat and she sees cellulite for the first time. Welcome to the real-world Barbie! More importantly, I think the movie brought to the surface all of my years of playing with Barbie dolls. It caused me to reflect on what impact those play experiences had on me. Did playing with Barbie dolls have the adverse effects on me that society claims?

I feel like Barbie dolls have gotten a bad rap in the last couple decades. I fully understand the concern of this perfect doll giving girls an unrealistic body image and that it encourages sexism. I get it. Yet, that was not my experience. As a child, I never really enjoyed playing with baby dolls but I loooooved playing with Barbie dolls, and I don’t feel like it damaged my self-esteem. Matter of fact, I learned quite a bit from my years playing with Barbie dolls.

5 Things I Learned From Playing With Barbies

I learned about the life I wanted to live.

My Barbies had a world of their own and it could change at my very whim. They would have friends, families and boyfriends (thank you Ken). I would make up stories about the different lives they would lead. Perhaps one time they would be part of a big family. Another time it would be a group of friends without kids around (sorry Skipper). They were doctors, teachers, businesswomen, and/or mothers and they played out these roles. My Barbies loved being outdoors and would often go on little camping trips next to a creek. (I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t foretelling of my current desire to be out in nature.) When I was going through my horse phase, I saved up and got a play horse for them to ride. I tried out different lives through the safety of play.

I learned financial & negotiation skills.

My parents were building their own business when I was growing up. They provided a wonderful, loving, secure home life but there was not a lot of discretionary income during my grade school years. I had to make the most of what I had, so I would save up to buy a new doll. I distinctly remember one time when I saved several weeks allowance and money from returning pop bottles to buy a new Barbie. Once I thought I had enough money, I coaxed my mom into taking me shopping.

I skipped into the store, excited to see all of the wonderful options. However, my heart dropped when we reached the toy aisle and realized that I did not have enough money for any of the Barbie dolls. Then I discovered a Barbie doll with dirt smudges and messed up hair that had been ripped from her box and was laying on the shelf. I gingerly asked my mom if she thought they would take less for this doll since she was out of her box and a little soiled. My wise mom, said, “well why don’t you ask?” I was a shy child so this was way outside my comfort zone. But I really wanted that doll so I gathered up my courage and asked the clerk if they would take the exact amount of money I had for the doll. Of course, she had to bring the manager over to decide. He was a big, burly, intimidating man that saw a fearful little girl who was willing to take a risk. He graciously accepted my offer, and I went home with a lovely new doll that just needed her hair combed and a little cleaning. Thank you kind sir, wherever you are, for negotiating with this shy little girl. You made my day and taught me a lesson about saving money, taking a risk and negotiating for something that you really want.

I learned socialization and collaboration skills.

Playing with Barbies was all about relationships and socialization. They would have conversations and sometimes they would have disagreements. When I would have a friend over to play Barbies, we would have to figure out how we were going to play that day, without really planning it ahead of time. Often it would evolve, much as real life does. Our dolls would have to socialize with each other. Sometimes my friend’s dolls would do something I did not like, and I imagine mine made her mad too. We had to work it out and move towards a common ground in how we would play. We were practicing the adult art of socialization and compromise through our dolls.

I learned forgiveness and sharing.

Over the years I developed a nice collection of Barbie dolls. I had a very good friend who loved to play with Barbies as much as I did. We would haul our dolls and their cloths closets back and forth to each other’s houses. She grew up in a single parent household and I imagine money was pretty tight. One day, she was over to my house to play. A few days after she went home, I noticed that a couple of my dolls were missing. I looked everywhere but could not find them. The next time I was at her house, the dolls were there. She thought they must have got mixed in with hers and she accidentally took them home. I was hurt that she did not tell me. It took a little time for me to realize that she did not have as many dolls as I did and just wanted some different ones to play with for a little while. It taught me about forgiveness and the importance of sharing with others.

I learned the joy of creating something yourself.

Most girls remember the Barbie suitcase that was also a closet. A delightful place to store the doll and her wardrobe. Well, those closets had to be filled. I did not buy the expensive Barbies that came with the beautiful, glittery evening gowns, so I had to get creative and make some of my own doll cloths. My mom gave me an old white slip that she did not use anymore. I happily cut it up, making one arm hole while drawing the fabric under the other arm and then tying the waist with a colorful ribbon to create a beautiful, at least in my childlike imagination, evening gown. I was content.

There were big, lovely pre-made Barbie houses. I even got a small one for Christmas one year. It was in a case that opened up to reveal a pink (of course) bedroom and living room. I loved it, but not as much as the houses I made myself. I would use cardboard boxes to create rooms. Windows were drawn on the walls with crayons and discarded pieces of fabric became curtains and blankets. I filled it with wood and cardboard furniture that I made. Outdoors, we had a corner of the yard, under a small pine tree. It was the perfect spot to build a log cabin for Barbie from broken tree branches. I learned the satisfaction of making something yourself.


Critics feel like the movie was an attempt by Matell to make Barbie popular again and thus increase their profits. So what if they did? They would not be the first company to do that. I tend to be a Polly Anna, but I took the best from the film and left the rest for the critics to battle out. I felt like the moral of the movie was that men and women can collaborate and work together to create a better society. I think that is a much better moral than most movies have. But the best part of watching the movie was that it brought back fond memories of being young and dreaming up my own world that my dolls played out. A world where I could practice being an adult and try out different lives, without the severe consequences of making mistakes as an adult.

On the Home Front

I am so blessed to be able to call this amazing lady my sister.

Sunday was National Sisters Day. I am so thankful to have a wonderful sister. She is kind, generous, creative, talented and fun. She is my bestie, my confidante and my partner in crime. She overlooks my faults and sees my heart. She shares my childhood memories. My sister is a few years older than I am, so she was well past playing with dolls while I was still in my prime. I would constantly beg her to play Barbies with me and was thrilled when she gave in. We still laugh about that.

Kayaking the channel between lower and upper Priest Lake with Mr. U, my sister & brother-in-law.

Last week Mr. U and I celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary. Yikes! How does 43 years go so fast? Forever grateful to have lived it with this wonderful man. We spent the day kayaking and then went to dinner at Elkins Resort on Priest Lake. Life has turned out better than I ever imagined. And maybe, just maybe, in some small part, it was because I had lots of practice with my dolls first.